Science Pub Portland: Robot City or Natural City

FEB 19, 2019 | 7-9PM

Robot City or Natural City: Plans and Speculations about the Urban City

With Carl Abbott, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University

February 19, 2019 | Doors Open @ 5PM 


$5 advance purchase for guaranteed seats; $5 suggested donation at the door. Tickets will be available online or at the OMSI front desk until 2pm the day of the event; see below for details.


The Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs projects that the world will add another 2.5 billion city dwellers by mid-century, mostly in Africa and Asia. Observers have worried about the impacts of urbanization since the acceleration of industrial development in the nineteenth century, but the scale of change is especially daunting today. How will we provide services and integrate new residents into urban society, especially in the face of rising environmental stress? How will we build and protect the physical systems that keep cities living and livable communities?


In this talk, Carl Abbott will contrast two of the strongest themes in current city planning.  One planning vision is Robot City, the city planned around the ability to gather and process vast amounts of real time information for both centralized control systems and dispersed systems that make dumb objects smarter, like automated trains to self-driving vehicles. The second vision is Natural City, the city planned at human scale and with environmental resilience in mind. This is a planning vision that emphasizes nature and neighborhoods. These two approaches may seem diametrically opposed, but the talk draws on the history of city planning ideas, current trends in urban development and planning, and ideas from speculative fiction to argue that we can seek to blend the best of both approaches.


Carl Abbott is recently retired from teaching Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University in five decades (not fifty years!) and has also held endowed visiting professorships at George Washington University and the University of Oregon. He has written several books about Portland, city and regional planning, the history of American cities, and science fiction. His shorter articles have appeared in online publication such as the Los Angeles Review of Books,, Atlantic CityLab, and Clarkesworld Magazine. His most recent book is Imaging Urban Futures: Cities in Science Fiction and What We Might Learn from Them. The Chinese translation was launched by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences in November. His favorite SF films are Forbidden Planet, Alien, and Serenity.


OMSI Science Pub at the Empirical Theater is a ticketed event. To guarantee a seat at this event, please buy tickets online or at the OMSI front desk. Advanced tickets will be available for purchase until 2:00pm the day of the event. Please show your ticket at the theater entrance upon arrival.


If the event sells out, we will update the website and Facebook listings accordingly. If the event does not sell out in advance, attendance will be first-come, first-served at the door and at-the-door admission will remain a suggested donation.

Science Pub OMSI is a monthly event that is open to anyone and everyone – no scientific background required. Just bring your curiosity, sense of humor, and appetite for food, drinks and knowledge! For more information or to sign up for our mailing list, email:


Pizza and salads will be available in our restaurant, Theory, and sandwichs and snacks from the Empirical Café. Guests can check-in at the theater entrance and find a seat before grabbing dinner and drinks. Food and drink are welcome in the theater. Parking is free for the event. Doors open at 5pm.


For more information or to sign up for our mailing list, email: